Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sunday Comment: Reverse Psychology

Dear Mr. Dean, Sen. Reid, and Rep. Pelosi:

I am a concerned citizen who ordinarily votes Democrat, writing to you - the leaders of the party - about my concerns regarding the President's nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. As a result of my current work schedule, I have not been able to take in as much of the media feeding frenzy as I would like, but it does not take a political expert to see that the nomination spells trouble for your party. But not in the way you probably think.

Upon President Bush's announcement that Roberts was the nominee, Mr. Dean immediately declared his "disappoint[ment]" and implied that Roberts was an "ideological judicial activist." My concern with this type of reaction is not so much that it's untrue - and it does appear to be false - but that it is playing right into Mr. Bush's hands.

It is surely true that Roberts is a conservative. It is also true that he spent most of his career representing business interests. But it is also true that Roberts is intelligent, well-qualified, and highly respected. Moreover, his previous confirmation testimony for and service on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit indicates that he takes the judicial role seriously and distinguishes his own positions from the law.

Let's get real here. Roberts is not an unqualified extremist. He will undoubtedly be confirmed. So the question has to be, given that, where do you go from here strategically?

My suggestion: covertly attack Roberts from the right. That's right, a little reverse psychology might make the social conservatives realize that they're getting screwed by this nomination.

Roberts has not taken a personal, public position on any of the day's hot-button issues. As far as I know, he hasn't come out against Roe v. Wade, hasn't come out against gay marriage, hasn't come out in favor of school prayer. So how in the world can Bush nominate him without risking the wrath of Christian conservatives. Answer: he can count on you guys to paint Roberts as an extremist, thereby satisfying the Christian right.

Yep, I can already see it now. Roberts will be grilled on those two briefs he signed while working in the Solicitor General's office - one urging the Court to overrule Roe and a second urging the Court to uphold prayer in schools. He'll be attacked on this issues even though your Senators will know good and well that Roberts was just a lawyer doing his job. Roberts, working in SG's office, was simply representing a client. He didn't get to decide what position to take. He was told what the President wanted and exercised his professional skill in making the best argument on behalf of that position.

There's a perfect analogy to be made here with military personnel. Do you blame the military - the generals and soldiers - for invading Iraq? No. They were just doing their jobs carrying out the orders of the President. The same goes for attorneys in the SG's office. There's nothing there - no real hay to be made - over the two briefs Roberts signed.

And here's where we get back to playing into Bush's hands. Most ordinary voters won't clearly understand the distinction I've made above. So if you treat Roberts as if he is someone that wants to overturn Roe and institute mandatory school prayer, the Christian right will believe you. And they'll love Roberts and Bush because of it.

What if instead, you said "We're pleased that Mr. Bush has selected such a well-qualified and moderate candidate to succeed Justice O'Connor. We understand that, in Mr. Robert's previous confirmation hearing, he recognized Roe v. Wade as good law and binding precedent. We believe that Mr. Roberts will support a woman's right to choose and preserve the separation between Church and State."

This would undoubtedly drive the Christian right nuts. They'd realize that Bush hasn't given them what they demanded: someone "solid" on the hot-button issues.

Bottom line: Roberts is going to be confirmed no matter how much you kick and scream, and the more kicking and screaming you do, the more you endear Bush to his base.




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